The Ultimate Guide to Reversing Heart Disease

Stop the leading cause of death in its tracks with simple lifestyle changes.

Medically reviewed in October 2021

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Heart disease is the leading cause of death among American adults. A new report in the Gallup-Sharecare State of American Well-Being series exposes the negative effects of heart disease including chronic disease, financial woes and productivity at work. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Your genes may predispose you to heart disease, but your lifestyle choices play a bigger role. Risk factors for heart disease include smoking, a poor diet, obesity and high cholesterol. Switching up your diet and reducing stress will go a long way in reducing (and even reversing) your risk of heart disease.

Learn more about heart attacks—a heart disease-related death.

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Kick the bad habits

Consuming too much alcohol can increase your risks of high blood pressure and heart disease. Although some studies suggest that a glass or two of wine each day might improve heart health, consuming alcohol in excess can negatively affect your heart. Smoking is another risk factor of heart disease. The chemicals in cigarette smoke damage blood vessels, causing them to clog and harden, making smokers more susceptible to heart attacks. Drop the booze and stomp out your cigarette addiction, and you’ll be on your way to reducing your risk of heart disease.

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Ditch the meat

Your consumption of fat directly affects your heart. A diet that is high in bad fats can increase cholesterol and clog arteries, leading to heart disease. According to Ornish Lifestyle Medicine™, those trying to reverse heart disease should included more of a plant-based nutrition plan and eliminate animal protein from meat, poultry and fish. Red meat is a particularly big contributor to heart disease, because it’s high in saturated fats and cholesterol. Opt instead for plant-based proteins like beans, legumes and tofu.

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Limit total fat

What you exclude is as important as what you eat. Ornish Lifestyle Medicine recommends consuming less than 10 percent of your daily calories from fat and no more than 10 milligrams of cholesterol a day. To do this, the lifestyle recommends eliminating high-fat foods like animal products, and added oils. You’ll get your healthy fats from foods like beans, grains and vegetables, and small amounts of nuts and seeds.

What does a nut serving look like?

  • 5 almonds
  • 9 pistachios
  • 1.5 teaspoons pumpkin seeds
  • 6 peanuts
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Manage your stress

Stress, your body’s response to stimuli, isn’t always a bad thing—it can boost energy and increase alertness. But, when stress goes unmanaged, it can cause high cholesterol and blood pressure, two risks of heart disease. People often cope with stress by smoking, drinking or overeating, which also lead to increased risk of heart disease.

Try managing your stress with breathing, stretching or meditation. For best results, try a technique for an hour each day. Don’t have that long? Practice managing your stress for even a few minutes. The consistency with which you practice is more important for reversing heart disease than the length of time you practice.

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Get more movement

Exercise can improve your heart health and reduce your risk of obesity. Walking for 30 minutes a day or an hour three times a week will give you the physical aerobic activity your body needs. But don’t limit yourself to walking—biking and swimming are great ways to add movement to your day, and they can be fun! If you choose an activity that you like, you won’t mind doing it. 

It might not be safe for individuals with conditions like obesity and diabetes to jump into exercising for an hour or even 30 minutes at a time. Before starting an exercise regimen, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider about safety and possible restrictions.

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